Snap Fact #211 - Federal Appeals Court Backs President Obama’s Position on Defense of Marriage Act!

Post date: Jun 05, 2012 1:45:42 AM

Snap Fact #211

Federal Appeals Court Backs President Obama’s Position on Defense of Marriage Act!

On May 31, 2012 the Federal Appeals Court of Massachusetts struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ruling that it unfairly denies equal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

DOMA was passed by a Republican House and Senate and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996. The law means same-sex couples are not afforded the same rights as straight couples when it comes to Social Security benefits, hospital visitation and other rights.

The opinion in the case, Massachusetts vs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was written by Judge Michael Boudin, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. It was joined by Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, a Clinton appointee, and Judge Juan Torruella, a Reagan appointee.

Although there is much fussing about this case, it should be noted that the decision was focused on a very narrow section of the law. In the key passage, the judges stressed they were upholding a state's right to insist on equal treatment for its married couples.

When Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 it was intended to prevent same-sex marriages in one state from being legally recognized by all states. Usually, a couple's marriage in one state is recognized as valid in all states. However, the federal law said no state "shall be required to give effect" to a "relationship between persons of the same sex." Moreover, it said that under federal law, a marriage "means only the legal union between one man and one woman." The case decided Thursday dealt only with this latter provision involving federal law and benefits.

Surely this case will reach the Supreme Court in 2013.

This judicial decision comes close on the heels of a political brouhaha that has been playing out in the weeks immediately preceding the ruling.

The President has said recently that his position on Gay marriages has been evolving. This statement was picked up by the propaganda machine and portrayed as insincere and self-serving. They claim that his position “evolved” overnight, in mid-May, just days after Vice President Biden announced his support for same sex marriages on a Sunday morning talk show.

But Obama’s evolution reaches back way further than his Republican adversaries or the carelessly crafted headlines would have you believe. We will see in a moment that the President publicly stated his evolving view at least 2-1/2 years before he announced his all-out support for same sex marriage. 

The issue of gay marriage has long been a difficult one for Obama. He opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in principle as a candidate, but all the way until February 2011 his Justice Department felt obligated to defend the Act in court as a matter of principle since it was the law of the land. In June 2009, for example, Justice argued that incest and adults marrying children were reasons to uphold DOMA. 

Just a half year later, at a news conference in December of 2009, shortly after signing the repeal of the military's "don't ask don't tell' policy, the President said of gay marriage, "My feelings about this are constantly evolving." 

"I struggle with this," he continued. "I have friends, I have people who work for me who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions, and they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about."

Finally, in February 2011, President Obama instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts deeming it unconstitutional, a move that sparked outcry from House Republicans, who vowed to pursue their own legal defense of the law, and they’ve cost the tax payers over a million and a half dollars to date to do so.


At that time Jay Carney opined in a news conference that, “Personally, the president does not support gay marriage… He supports strong civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. But his opinion may be changing”.

So while he evolved from tepid support through trying to find an effective and respectful middle ground for the country by supporting fully legally recognized civil unions, and then arriving at a fully committed position in support of same sex marriage, one can see clearly that the President’s position has genuinely evolved along a logical and thoughtful path. 

Once this man of character reached his decision he expressed it forthrightly and has stood behind it steadfastly as a good leader does, in spite of the political consequences. Here is one more opportunity to compare and contrast the characters of the two candidates for the presidency of the United Sates in this November’s election:

"We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody," The President recently stated. "That doesn't weaken families, that strengthens families."

Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, says “marriage is defined as being between a man and woman”.